Net gains in online address management
by James Lawson.
25 Oct 2011: Running address management and many other data quality software using online look-ups against remote reference files is now well established. Web services fit well with modern SaaS tools and look-ups can be charged per click, while Internet delivery can simply reference file updating, reduce license fees and widen reference file choice amongst many other benefits. Even high-end, high-volume batch processing tools benefit from remote updating and web service delivery these days.
“The advantage of a web service to our customers is that they can pay per address lookup by purchasing a block of transactions to suit their usage, or choose an unlimited licence,” says Emma Gooderham, Managing Director, WorldAddresses.com “The pay-as-you-go model is a much more flexible budget option for a growing or seasonal business, rather than having to pay a fixed price upfront per terminal or PC that can access the data and having to keep track of the users.”
Freed from the need to hold and licence large files in-house, online reference services are expanding fast to cover applications from credit and identity checking to verifying bank account details. The benefits of per-click payment certainly apply with international address data. Holding international address datasets locally, updating them regularly, and arranging licensing is just too much complex and costly.
Pay-per-use UK and international data look-up services like World Addresses or Capscan’s OnDemand mean there is no need to invest in expensive international reference datasets, especially when a company is just starting to use this type of data.
Even installed batch software stalwarts like helpIT see the advantages of web deployment for its clients where appropriate. It now offers findIT S2, a dupe prevention tool delivered as a web service (though only in the US so far). As staff enter addresses, this single look-up utility checks for existing dupes in real time against specified customer databases. It also provides rapid addressing functionality and validates the address against standard reference files – in this case, the USPS database.
“Address capture is easily deployed via the web without development resource,” says Graham Clark, Sales Director at helpIT Systems. “You couldn’t find a more transparent way of delivering a service than per-click.”
As well as using various web services within its latest matchIT SQL batch product, the company already offers online access to a range of suppression and deceased reference files via its installed matchIT suite. The idea is to give clients access to data that they may need infrequently and cannot justify licensing, effectively allowing them to mix and match in-house data processing with bureaux services through the same software package and within the same job.
“It’s about choice,” says Clark. “They can upload the file to be cleaned and access other suppression and enhancement services via the same interface. You are fitting in with their ááá ááá needs rather than forcing them to fit in with your delivery methods.”
Swift integration with other modern SaaS tools is another considerable benefit of web service delivery, promoting ease of use and also helping to bring businesses into addressing. Addressing vendors have long offered addressing tools for common CRM and other corporate software, but it requires some kind of local installation in each PC.
“All of our web services fit in well with SaaS applications, in terms of the usage model and the technology,” says Gooderham. “Our Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics plug-ins utilise web services to deliver address and grid reference data straight into these CRM applications.”
Terry Hiles, Managing Director of Capscan, notes that the overall penetration of PAF products in the UK business community is still tiny. “There’s a variety of reasons for that, but the key is to make the technology available to end users through their own applications that relate to their own business. Web services have a big part to play there.”
This ease of integration means addressing is popping up on all sorts of web-enabled applications: kiosks, handheld devices, business mobile applications and so on. One impediment here is the large accreditation fee that many companies like Salesforce charge developers for allowing them to link cleansing plug-ins to their popular applications.
Easy integration with websites is another web service plus and means that developers can quickly add something like an address capture form to a site. This should vastly increase the quality of addresses being returned to the company. It also has other benefits.
“The web has definitely helped awareness,” says Jamie Turner, IT Director at Postcode Anywhere. “People see web form capture and come to us and say, ‘we want that for our business’. There used to be a perception that addressing was only for larger companies but we are seeing real growth in the market at the moment. I think we’re going to see more cloud-based products with data capture and other data quality functions built in.”
The reliability and latency of web-delivered look-ups has been one objection in the past. But with ADSL offering swift, cheap and (mostly) reliable connections to even the SME mass market, rapid addressing tools no longer necessarily have to be tethered to a local platform.
“Our PostCoder API and Batch installed products are super-fast, processing hundreds of address searches per second,” says Gooderham. “In comparison, our PostCoder Web service is dependent on our customers’ Internet connections and may be slightly slower, though the difference is not noticeable to the user.”
In general, web look-ups are fast enough for all but the vastest of rapid addressing set-ups, but using remote look-ups where batch processing millions of records is the goal is ááá ááá still unfeasible. Matching and correcting 16 million records is most likely going to run on a local server.
“Speed of access definitely does become an issue with larger files as does robustness and resilience,” says Hiles. “We do have customers that use web services for batch processing but we’re talking about tens of thousands of records, not millions.”
Certainly ‘web bureau’ companies like Data8 and UKChanges are thriving, but the role of the Internet there is more about being the delivery mechanism for files that will then processed locally at those bureaux and sent back. Both these companies do offer “real” web services, but again these are about low volume lookups rather than batch processing. There are workarounds on offer like the “trickle feed” solution where file is processed while it is still being transmitted.
“The uplink is the problem with ADSL and that’s something we’re doing a lot of work on,” says Turner, who adds that his company is developing a new “streaming interface” which should help overcome problems with latency when working with batch processing. “Bandwidth is getting bigger and cheaper all the time, and very large companies usually have very large bandwidths,” he says.
Security is still one of the main objections from larger businesses. Many companies, particularly in financial services, prefer to have all their systems safely hidden away behind the firewall. Though more companies are accessing the Mortascreen deceased file remotely, Jo Bell, Commercial Director at Mortascreen, says that the majority still employ the file in conjunction with installed software.
“We have a very tight licence,” says Bell. “All the data has to be encrypted and we have to be happy with the way the data is being used within the software. We don’t just automatically allow people to use it.”
Turner notes that one popular enterprise solution is to have local processing but with the application updated and controlled remotely. This can let the vendor fix problems remotely and, because it’s possible to monitor the client’s look-ups, prompt them about subsequent changes to those records.
“Many customers do prefer to have that application outside their infrastructure,” he says. “Generally the outsourced IT approach is the modern way of doing things. But the Cloud isn’t for everyone and you need to give people the choice.”
Certainly any large company that has addressing as an integral part of its processes and relies solely on remote lookups will need an excellent Internet connection along with a good Service Level Agreement. A hybrid option here is to use both remote and local lookups, particularly reassuring where the Internet connection may be less than reliable or there are occasional spikes in demand. If the web service connection drops or slows, then the internal PAF server takes the strain. Likewise, if the internal service is too busy, the remote server can help out.
With addressing delivered as a web service, any reference data is held, managed and updated in the ‘Cloud’. There is no downtime during updating and the service works completely as normal. Even with installed software, reference data and software updates are now largely supplied via the Internet rather than on CD. In both cases, the process is transparent to users.
“The update process can be onerous for a lot of companies,” says Bell. “It’s easier to go to someone who has already licensed all the files and offers them via their service. It makes it as accessible as possible.”
But though the times are changing, it does appear that some other data owners are less interested in participating in the new era. According to Phil Good, Managing Director of Hopewiser, licence restrictions are limiting the number of files available via web services.
“Ideally you would access all the files via one piece of software but one company might let you while another doesn’t,” he says. “There’s a definite reluctance to offer reference files as a web service by some owners.”
Good ascribes this to the premium prices paid to use some data, pointing to “jealously guarded pricing structures” for certain types of reference file. “It’s basically too expensive to use these files,” he states.
This issue is something that Postcode Anywhere has grappled with as it attempts to deliver the widest variety of reference data and services. “The biggest challenge of all is licensing,” states Turner. “There are very complex terms and pricing, and it makes it hard to use the files together. The data owners can be reluctant as they perceive it as going down the road of commoditisation and lower margins.”
Though it is supposedly meant to be as widely used as possible, the long-running PAF license saga might have been written as a case study in licensing confusion. “PAF pricing is still in a mess,” Good says. “It costs eight times as much to run a look-up internally as it does for a member of the public to do a look-up on a website.”
Hiles agrees, noting that, “It’s still not that easy to use PAF, with all its administrative and licensing issues.” One effect is that the flip side of pay-per-use is its cost for larger look-up volumes: it gets far more expensive as volumes rise and installed addressing solutions still offer far better value for money for serious, big volume users.
As bandwidths rise and transmission costs drop, the convenience and transparency of web services should continue to convince more users of the obvious benefits of addressing. There’s some worry about the security of reference files as more and more of them are accessed online, and improvements still need to be made in batch speed, technology and delivery, as well as ironing out the discrepancies in pricing between installed and web delivery. Overall though, there’s little doubt that online delivery is the future for addressing.
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